Emily Davis

Sep 13, 2021

7 min read

In Which I Attempt to Reflect on the 20th Anniversary of the Things

In Which I Attempt to Reflect on the 20th Anniversary of the Things

Y’all know me. I love to reflect. Reflecting on stuff is my favorite thing and I do it on the regular. But I’m having some trouble reflecting on this 20th anniversary of 9–11. I want to. It seems important to, especially as this is also the 20th anniversary of the birth of my theatre company, but — like, my brain just sort of dances around it and will not settle.

I’m much more interested in the three young women next to me at this outdoor patio of this café. They were recently college students so they are unlikely to have any real memory of 9–11. Today is more or less meaningless to them. That’s how long it’s been. It’s been long enough for these young women to grow up.

I want to send out an email to my company mailing list and celebrate two decades of making theatre in New York. That seems like a thing people do on a theatre birthday. But I don’t know what to say.

I was 28 on 9/11/01 and I knew that the world had changed forever and I knew there was no time to waste. We were all vulnerable. Our lives could be cut short at any moment by anything — just out of the clear blue sky. Literally. With my one wild and precious life, I knew I had to make theatre. No question. What to do when destruction rains down? Create. It’s the only answer as far as I was concerned. It still is.

I read a post on Humans of New York today about the woman who ended up curating the 9–11 Tribute Museum. She says that in talking to people who went through it, near and far, that over the years everyone leaned in to focus on their children and grandchildren. Their pain began to take a back seat to enjoying their descendants.

I don’t have any descendants. But I do have a theatre. It was born 20 years ago, with three mothers. Then the other mothers had actual children so care of this theatre “child” has largely been mine. And now it’s twenty somehow. I guess kids are like that.

These young women next to me are not concerned about what day this is. They’re happily debating over an on-line menu, planning what they’ll have when they go to dinner later. They are all very excited about the steak fries. They are likely not triggered by the blue of the sky today or the sound of the planes over head. Their primary relationship to this date is the older people around them memorializing and marking the day. It’s history for them. I envy them that distance from the event itself. But I’m also sorry that they’ve never known the time before.

It was a terrible day but it lit a fire under me. And those first few years after it were the most creatively fulfilling of all. That year — even before 9–11 — was a potent one for me. The timeline is all blurry but it looks like the release date for my band’s album was September 10th, 2001. I mean. Come on.

I have no memory of our album release. I know we played some shows and that we made some postcards. But I don’t remember thinking that 9–11 had a particular impact on the band. But it must have. It MUST have. Or maybe my starting a theatre company tanked our musical ambitions. I don’t think that’s it though.

I was also in a production of Twelfth Night at the time and we missed a rehearsal or two and worried over our Andrew Aguecheek who worked downtown, but thankfully had managed to just miss his own tragedy but not the survivor’s guilt. We talked about canceling the show, which was due to open later that month, but the majority of people involved felt that the show going on was the best thing we could do under the circumstances.

I mean, thinking about it now — National tragedy aside — I was in the middle of a very artistically fruitful moment in September of 2001. I was a lead in a Shakespeare play. My band’s album, featuring songs I’d written came out on September 10th and on September 11th, we decided to start a theatre company and put on my play. How do I have a month like that again? (Again, without the death and destruction please.)

In the last two decades, I have learned about myself that when things get hard, I get determined and I make art happen. I don’t necessarily write things but I do start producing. It happened in 2020, too, when I pushed The Dragoning off the back burner and right up to the front of the line.

But suddenly it all sounds so rosy and it absolutely was not. I was horrified by the hate that bubbled up and cried through so many workshops and planning meetings for the arts education I was doing. I was frightened for my Muslim students. I remember being really afraid I wouldn’t be able to get through teaching an Anne Frank workshop without crying because I was so worried we, as a nation, were about to get Nazi-like with this “patriot” act. Now, I wish I’d done a lot more than cry and also, the Nazis really were coming. We had no idea.

I get stuck here in thinking about this because, emotionally speaking, for me, 2001 was not nearly as bad as election night 2016 or the last year and a half. It was far more dangerous for me to walk to the grocery store in the spring of 2020 than anything I experienced in September of 2001. Every two days, we lose a 9–11’s worth of people. Right now. The loss is relentless these days as we lose friends, theatres, dance companies, bands, restaurants and hope.

I started writing this on the 11th and now it’s the 12th of September, 2021. September 12th, 2001 was actually one of the most hopeful days to live in NYC. The kindness was palpable. New Yorkers are really beautifully generous in crisis and that was a big crisis so everyone pulled out their best selves and as much as I wish we could have missed 9–11, I’m so grateful I was here for 9–12 and 9–13 and at least a week after.

This isn’t true for everyone, of course and it’s also possible that the twenty years between then and now has dimmed the bad memories and amplified the hopeful ones. I was safe across the water in Brooklyn, after all, on the phone with my friend in California, starting a theatre company.

One of the trickiest things about this anniversary for me is that it’s not just that the bad thing happened 20 years ago — it’s the way it points out that that defining event was 20 years ago. It is such a loud fixed point in all of our lives. And twenty is such a round number.

I don’t think I can write that official 20th birthday email for my company. This year, I can’t extract my own responses to twenty years having passed, to the events of twenty years ago, to all that’s happened since.

I think, instead, come spring, I’ll mark the 20th anniversary of our first show that came to fruition after this complicated birthday. Or I’ll celebrate our 21st birthday and invoke Dionysus and Bacchus in honor of the legal drinking age this theatre will have reached.

Reflecting may not, in fact, be so necessary on this occasion but I hope, one day this pandemic will be actually over and we can have the equivalent of the week after the events.

Probably we should all just go enjoy some steak fries like those young women and leave the reflecting alone.

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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on September 13, 2021.

Theatre Artist, writer, blogger, podcaster, singer, dreamer, hoper

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